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Impact of Fact-Checking Training on the Nigerian Journalists to mitigate the spread of mis/disinformation

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Abstract

Despite huge investment that has gone into the training and capacity building of local journalists by various funders through independent fact-checking organisations in Nigeria, no known research has been conducted to examine the impacts of fact-checking training on the Nigerian journalists across newsrooms who have been selected for training. This study has filled the huge gap. Findings reveal that: 

One, there is a considerable level of working relationship and partnership between newsrooms and fact-checking organisations, as respondents (25.5%) indicated they were aware of fact-checking training through their organisations and (23.6%) said they were encouraged to participate in training by their organisations.

Two, majority of Nigerian journalists (43.6%) had “low” level of fact-checking awareness and very few (only 7.3%) had a “very high” level of awareness before training. This apparently affected their ability to receive training and use the skills.

Three, even after having being trained, and with the awareness and knowledge of fact-checking tools, journalists did not use the skills effectively and regularly as only 1.8% said they did fact-checking “daily” and 14% did “weekly,” while the highest number of respondents (36.45%) said they did fact-checking and media literacy articles only “once in a while.” The majority (63.6%) said they never set up any fact-checking desks nor organise step-down training in their organisations.

Four, though journalists did little with their skills, majority of them (29.1%) said their organisations published their articles as part of broadcast contents; 23.7% said their fact checks were published on their digital platform; 9.1% published on funders’ website; and another (9.1%) said their articles never got published. 

Five, journalists said they faced challenges in up-taking fact-checking practise. First, despite partnership and relationship between media and fact-checking organisations, some newsrooms still had cold feet towards adopting fact-checking in their organisations; second, journalists in government-owned media could not fact-check government official programmes and policies while those in privately-owned media could not fact-check their organisations’ advertisers. Third, retrieving official information was mostly difficult.

The study contributes to existing knowledge by adding to the literature of fact-checking in the Nigerian media landscape as recommended by a study by Cheruiyot et al. (2018) which observes that literature on Fact-checking in Africa is largely scarce and recommends that “future studies may explore data-driven practices in African journalistic cultures and their implication to legacy news media.” Two, it provides a new template for future engagement in terms of training selection and capacity building, monitoring and evaluation of both journalists and their respective newsrooms in the post-training period. 

This study thereby recommends that the legacy media should embrace and develop the template for a proper utilisation of verification tools provided by the New  Journalism. And for future research, there is a need for a more qualitative approach and content analysis of what exactly journalists are doing with the skills they have acquired. Two, as recommended by Bob Wekesa et al (2017), there is a need for research in journalists and audience interest in fact-checking journalism.

 Introduction: 

Interest in fact-checking journalism stemmed from the proliferation of false information and failure on the part of mainstream journalism to go beyond official factual statements made in public (Amazeen, 2013). In the past two decades, fact-checking journalism has grown from an in-house media function to dedicated fact-checking organisations which deploy the new journalism to counter false and inaccurate claims made in public; hence, it is part of the information landscape in which journalists work (Brandtzaeg et. al, 2018). While research has shown that fact-checking journalism started and has tremendously grown in the global North (Bob Wekesa et al, 2017), it is very recent in Africa and elsewhere in the global South (Cheruiyot, et. al, (2018). 

Following major interventions, there has been a good number of fact-checking organisations, springing up on the African continent, with a pioneering Africa Check, described as the first dedicated fact-checking organisation in Africa ((Bob Wekesa et al, 2017), “whose fact-checked reports were given wider reach by being published on the legacy news platforms” (Amobi, 2019), as well as Dubawa, described as the first independent fact-checking outfit in Nigeria (Ogunyemi, 2020). As many of these independent and dedicated outlets are known to operate within the same environment and misinformation ecosystem with the legacy media, and because they are equally driven by the same journalistic ethos of striving for the truth, the zeal to develop a symbiotic relationship is often high.

Graves (2017) observes, “digital media help fact-checking outlets publish and promote their work online, but for wider reach, they still rely heavily on legacy media and work systematically to build relationships with them”. This type of relationship is inevitable as both sides of media practice need each other to move the narrative about information dissemination landscape from the realm of charlatans.

To concretise this relationship and domesticate fact-checking in the global south, particularly Nigeria, and because misinformation published by the media can always and swiftly reach its audience, newsrooms have been selected by fact-checking organisations for training in the art of fact-checking. Some of these efforts include a funded project–in the build-up to 2019 general elections–by CrossCheck Nigeria, strengthening the capacity of local newsrooms in Nigeria on fact-checking methods “to investigate and accurately report on misleading and false information (Ricchiardi,  2018).  

Also, AfricaCheck had established a partnership with Twitter, to provide support for Twitter’s efforts to “provide better, accurate context” for Nigerians on key moments in the 2019 election campaign (Amobi, 2019). In fact, it was reported that by the end of 2019, AfricaCheck had trained 3,000 journalists in more than a dozen countries and “launched the Africa Facts network of fact checking organisations in countries from DR Congo to Zimbabwe” (Full facts Africa Check and Chequeado, 2020). 

In 2019, Dubawa, a fact-checking arm of The Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism and other partners had organised fact-checking training for journalists in Nigeria (Egwu, 2019). 

In 2020, Dubawa also embarked on a fact-checking training fellowship for over twenty journalists and researchers in Nigeria and Ghana, a programme funded with support from the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy (Ogunyemi, 2020). 

From another land, study has shown how Full Fact and Chequeado had trained journalists and newsrooms in their different environments. While Cheaquado coordinated “a network of fact checking units across Latin America called Latam Chequea, and in 2019 ran a collaborative project between newsrooms to fact-check the presidential elections,”  Full Fact had also carried out training for journalism students across the UK, including for “Google News Lab events and the National Council for the Training of Journalists” (Full Fact, Africa Check & Chequeado, 2020). 

Justifying the place of fact-checking training to local media, Ebele Oputa of Dubawa Nigeria, once asserted that “providing factual information and building the capacity of newsrooms to fact-check is a method to rebuild and restore lost trust” in the mainstream media (Patrick Egwu, 2019). This, therefore, justifies the impact of fact-checking journalism on the social responsibilities of the media to the society. 

Apart from earlier training and logistics support, more major interventions are being extended to Nigerian newsrooms and journalists. To check mis/disinformation around COVID-19 among others, Google announced in April 2020 a huge sum of $5.6million support to media and fact-checking outlets globally. According to Google News Initiative, support would be extended through “Data Leads in partnership with BOOM Live in India and Africa Check in Nigeria to leverage data from Question Hub. This will be complemented by an effort to train 1,000 journalists across India and Nigeria to spot health misinformation” (Google News, 2020). 

The impact of these interventions needs to be measured because, despite these efforts, newsrooms still publish unverified information as Nigerians continue to endure the laziness or nonchalance of journalists willing to publish rumours picked in bars and beauty parlours (BBC, 2020).

Within the context of the fore-going, this study aims at building on the existing literature, mapping local efforts at embracing fact-checking by investigating the impact of fact-checking training on the Nigerian journalists. To achieve this, this study has a set of objectives which include:

  • Identifying fact-checking organisations at the frontline of fact-checking training in Nigeria;
  • Examining the relationship between local media and fact-checking organisations in Nigeria;
  • Carrying out a survey of the Nigerian journalists who have received fact-checking training between 2015 and 2020;
  • Examining the level of fact-checking awareness and knowledge among the Nigerian journalists to effectively receive the training;
  • Investigating the level at which the recipients of training utilise the skills and knowledge acquired through the training;
  • Investigating the challenges militating against the expected impact of the training on the journalists.

Statement of Research Problem

Cheruiyot et al (2018) has observed that fact-checking literature is largely scarce in Africa and has recommended that “future studies may explore data-driven practices in African journalistic cultures and their implication to legacy news media”. Even when efforts from other parts of the African continent, particularly in South Africa, are contributing to the body of knowledge, very few contributing literature has been observed in Nigeria. This is against a background of the concern expressed in Folarin (2020) in reference to Adekunle (2020) that “researchers in the country have not taken their time to interrogate the mis- and disinformation ecosystem by exploring the dynamics of work process of Dubawa and other fact-checking organisations in Nigeria.”

In addition, the new narrative, such as the issue of corruption, misgovernance, insecurity, and indeed COVID-19 pandemic confronting Nigeria’s democracy now revolves around how to tackle mis/disinformation being peddled around. The role of the media in the fight is widely expected. There is a need for new skills and capacity building for the media to handle these new narratives. This study is convinced by the efforts of not-for-profit media organisations in providing these skills to the media. Yet, it  is concerned about progress being made by the Nigerian media landscape having been willing collaborators with fact-checkers over time. 

Despite the huge investment in domesticating fact-checking in Nigeria and the capacity building being provided to journalists across newsrooms, research has not been sufficient in highlighting the impact of the training and logistics provided to local journalists to incorporate fact-checking techniques into mainstream reporting. 

Again, observation has shown little research into the challenges militating against effective use of the skills and knowledge gathered from these capacity building efforts. There is also a need to document the overarching influence of bureaucracy in the newsrooms and their impact on journalists as fact-checkers. 

Review of Related Literature

Researchers have developed interest in investigating the impact of fact-checking, in particular, on the institutions, the public, political figures, and the media. Much of these studies has virtually been literature written outside Nigeria’s media environment. Some of the existing literature include that of Nyhan et al (2015) which observes that while many people are not familiar with the practice of fact-checking, “the public generally holds very favourable attitudes toward it.” Amazeen (2013) has also reported the impact of fact checking in the US, particularly on political operatives and concluded that, “…fact checking may have helped spur some political operatives to make more accurate claims.”

The study conducted by Cheruiyot et al. (2018) focuses on the practice of fact-checking by non-profits in Africa (including AfricaCheck, Code for Africa, and Open Up), using journalistic tools to render services traditionally shouldered by the mainstream media. The research which observes that literature on Fact-checking in Africa is largely scarce recommends that “future studies may explore data-driven practices in African journalistic cultures and their implication for legacy news media as well as comparative approaches that contextualise practices in different journalistic contexts”.  

Full Fact, Chequado and Africa Check (2020) published a study on the impact of fact-checking on public figures, institutions and the media and find that some media outlets use fact checking content in their work, and that journalists have reported changing their practices in terms of the way they question sources on grounds of accuracy. But there is still a long way to go to “raise awareness of the practice and more to understand how fact checking might encourage journalists to take on the principles of the practice in their own work.”

In South Africa, Bob Wekesa et al (2017) did a study on the uptake of fact-checking practises by the newsrooms and came up with a number of findings: One, it shows fact-checking has gained some popularity in the South African newsrooms; two,  it shows that the South African media is mainly reliant on external sources for fact-checking, primarily Africa Check; three, despite the popularity of fact-checking practises in the media, South African newsrooms have not embraced fact-checking as a credible form of journalism like others in Europe and America. 

The study also highlights some challenges facing the media from incorporating fact-checking practises in their agenda. These include lack of clarity on the part of the media about what  exactly fact-checking is and how fact-checking can be considered a specific journalistic genre; two, why some newsrooms are lacking the necessary resources already under strain in the newsroom.

Against this background, the study recommends that the media needs to create in-house fact-checking content and processes, specific guidelines and skills. It recommends that the media should set a fact-checking agenda on their own.

Fact-checking Journalism

Scholars have viewed fact-checking through the lens of traditional fact-checking and modern fact-checking. Traditional fact-checking started in the 1920’s and 30’s with leading newsrooms such as Times Magazine, New Yorker, and Newsweek (Fabry, 2017). With what it used to do, traditional practice was more labour-intensive as the newsroom had to hire personnel who tracked possible errors in the news materials before going to press. Fact-checking of this nature was carried out by rewrite desks “manned by senior reporters and sub-editors whose major duty was to ensure that information supplied was verified and corrected before publishing” (Arogundade, 2019). 

While traditional fact-checking strives to ensure that inaccurate information does not get to the public through the media reports, modern fact-checking does its work by tracking false information already in the public space, scrutinising the veracity of the claims and rating them true or false. It refers to a kind of journalism in which claims by public personalities are researched and judged as false or true, often by journalists designated as ‘fact checkers (Bob Wekesa et. al, 2017). So, while fact-checking has been part of journalistic practice for  long, modern fact-checking made its way to the current status through digital evolution. Two events gave rise to the full scale political fact-checking practice in the United States: One, the deceptive ads that characterised the 1988 Presidential election and the unchallenged claims that greeted the Iraqi War in the 2000s (Fabry (2017). With the aid of the internet, journalists and fact-checkers felt the need to scrutinise political claims which have hitherto gone unchallenged. Amazeen (2013) reported how journalists in the United States felt non-responsible for reporting information verbatim without verifying the truth and accuracy of such claims. Bill Adair of the Politifact was quoted as saying  “The reason we created PolitiFact was because of my guilt that I had just been passing along factual claims without verifying their accuracy.” 

In essence, fact-checking has come to make journalism more responsible to its core mandate of informing the public truthfully and accurately so that people can make reasonable choices in the affairs that concern them. This is where fact-checking and social responsibilities of the media are intertwined. This study is convinced of the ripple effects the relationship between the media and fact-checking organisations engender. Having observed that, it is important to examine how fact-checking is helping media fulfil its social responsibilities.   

Social responsibilities of the media

This study relies on the social responsibility theory of the media as its conceptual framework to answer its research questions. Historically, social responsibility theory was developed in 1956 by a group of scholars: Fred Peterson, Theodore Siebert, and Wilbur Schramm (Nwokoro (2019) and Oriola (2019) because there was suspicion around the role of the press and the state actors’ manipulation of the media regarding the publication of propaganda in World War 2 and its capacity to have both good and bad influence on society. Sequel to this suspicion, a Commission on Freedom of the Press was set up in the 1940’s “to inquire into the proper function of the media in modern democracies” (Annamarie, 2017, quoting Nerone, 1995). 

The Commission was seen by many and appreciated by editors and publishers as a necessary move, not only to save the declining public image of the media but also to amplify the public understanding of the importance of the freedom of the press (Blachan, 1977). With a grant of $200,000 provided by Time Magazine’s Henry Luce, Robert M. Hutchins, the president of the University of Chicago, served as the chair of the Commission (David Shedden, 2015). 

In its findings, the commission observed that the freedom of the press was in danger, having realised that the ability to communicate had become very important but the people had found it difficult to express their views. It found that those who controlled access to the media did not consider a wide spectrum of ideas. It also observed “the failure of the directors of the press to recognise the needs of a modern nation and . . . accept the responsibilities which these needs impose upon them” (Blanchard, 1977).  This simply means that the press at the time failed the people in its responsibility of providing accurate information for informed choices.

Bearing this in mind, Blanchard (1977) responded to this failure and issued a caveat that “a press which needed to rebuild its public image and revive its credibility, the concept of press “responsibility” was an idea whose time had come”. 

So, the adoption of the theory by this study is justified, judging from the recommendations of Hutchins’s Commission which, by extension, appeared to have provided a formidable foundation for today’s fact-checking journalism. With the space fact-checking occupies today, the Commission’s recommendations seem to have been futuristic about how legacy media would benefit from fact-checking. 

If  social responsibility theory of the media was born in the 1940s to salvage the media’s dwindling reputation and public image because it failed to serve the public good, modern fact-checking has come to play a similar role. It, therefore, means that the inadequacies associated with the press in the 40s are still in place in the 21st century. It is apparently because of this that Martina Topic et al (2018) raise a legitimate “question of journalism standards and the extent the press could be considered as socially responsible.” 

The impact of fact-checking on legacy media shows that it reflects “a need to fill the gap left by resource-weakened newsrooms battling to roll up their sleeves and do the work of journalism well and accurately” (Bob Wekesa et al, 2017). 

Thi s study thereby argues in favour of the need for the media of the 21st century to embrace and deploy fact-checking capacity building skills and knowledge as veritable tools to meet up with its social responsibilities which should serve the good of the society. Speaking in favour of the above,  Anniemarie (2017) argues that:

the theory’s tenets are more or less universal and that its functions still need to be fully implemented. Further evidence is that fact-checking organisations arise from the need to remedy media failures that the Hutchins Commission laid bare.

How Fact-Checking is Helping the media play its roles

Annamaire (2017) highlights five “Ideal Demands” from the Commission to the media. These include the fact that the media: 

  • The need to provide a  truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of the day’s event in a context which gives them meaning;
  • The need to understand that it “is no longer enough to report the fact truthfully. It is now necessary to report the truth about the fact.” 
  • The need to identify the source of a fact to enable members of the audience to judge its accuracy (1947:25).
  • The need for “a resolute policy of criticism of the press by the press” (1947:66).
  • The need to embrace non-profit media organisations…to help meet the requirements of a socially responsible media (1947:97).

From the first requirement which speaks to “a truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of the day’s event,” fact-checking is fulfilling this because of its faithfulness to  reportorial accuracy which has spurred fact-checkers to have corrected misreporting by some media organisations. 

The second requirement stresses that “it is no longer enough to report the fact truthfully. It is now necessary to report the truth about the fact.” Unlike legacy news reporting, fact-checking does not confuse general editing with accuracy. Instead,  it deploys verification tools “that check and verify factual statements and claims made in the public domain, with the aim of establishing the truthfulness, correctness, or authenticity of the assertion based on verifiable facts” (Bob Wekesa et al, 2017).

The third requirement expects the media to identify the source of a fact to enable members of the audience to judge its accuracy. This is also in tune with fact-checking methodology which subscribes to open source and open data.

The fourth recommendation suggests that one of the most effective ways of improving the press is that the media adopt “a resolute policy of criticism of the press by the press”(1947:66). Fact-checking is a new critique of the legacy media. Graves (2013) describes fact-checking as a kind of “reporting that proceeds mainly through the critical analysis of published news texts and other documents” (Graves, 2013, P. 81). Graves contends fact-checking as a critique of conventional journalism; an objective critique that often yields new information from what is initially published. Here, we conceive an intertextual relationship between the legacy media and fact-checking practices.    

Lastly, the Hutchins Commission suggested that non-profit media organisations be brought in to help meet the requirements of a socially responsible media (1947:97). These non-profit organisations can be seen in the form of today’s fact-checking organisations helping the legacy media in terms of objectively critiquing and creating a new trust base in news reporting. 

How fact-checking is helping social responsibilities of the media
Legacy MediaFact-Checking
Expected to provide a  truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of the day’s event in a context which gives them meaning;Committed to  reportorial and editorial accuracy
Reports the fact truthfully.Deploys tools to establish the truthfulness, correctness or authenticity of the assertion based on verifiable facts
Needs to identify the source of a factSubscribes to open, multiple sources and open data 
Needs a resolute policy of criticism of the press by the pressDescribed as a critique of conventional journalism; an objective critique that often yields new information from what is initially published
Should embrace non-profit media organisationsIndependent and dedicated fact-checking organisations should be embraced by the media

Methodology 

The study targets the recipients of the fact-checking training provided by the major independent and dedicated fact-checking organisations in Nigeria, including Africa-Check, Dubawa, and AFP, following a search on the WhatsApp page of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) which prompted the three as the recognised fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. 

Considering the nature of this research, it embraces the quantitative research methodology as its approach and employs the instrument of a questionnaire as its data collection method. The instrument contains seventeen questions in google docs format and distributed strategically to eligible respondents. While twelve questions were closed, the instrument contained five open-ended questions deliberately designed to retrieve indepth and robust responses from the respondents. 

Based on this, the study adopts the content analysis of responses from the open-ended questions to analyse how training skills were used for professional endeavour and to also identify challenges and way forward. 

To avoid wrong entries, only  local journalists who have participated in any fact-checking training in Nigeria between 2015 and 2020 were made eligible to respond. And to reach the respondents directly, major fact-checking organisations that have organised training for journalists in Nigeria between 2015 and 2020 (mostly Africa-Check and Dubawa) were contacted for detailed contact lists of journalists they have trained so far. Similarly, a media-based non-governmental organisation (International Press Centre, IPC) at the frontline of media training and development which has partnered with Africa Check Nigeria for the training of journalists was also contacted for contact details of journalists.  

The data were collated within a period of four weeks, that  is, between August 12 and September 10, 2020. A purposive sample of 100 respondent-journalists was targeted. To achieve this, 180 journalists were reached through their emails and WhatsApp contacts. At the end, a total number of 55 journalists agreed to participate in the survey, representing 55% of the total sample. Of these, 6 respondents were disqualified because they were ineligible participants, leaving 49 respondents to be analysed. 

Results:

Research Question 1: Identifying Organisations at the Frontline of Fact-checking Training in Nigeria

Respondents were asked to identify which fact-checking organisation conducted the training they have attended. To examine this, respondents were made to answer two questions: (i) Have you ever participated in any fact-training? (ii) Which fact-checking outfit organised the training? Of the 55 respondents identified for the survey, 10 respondents (18.2%) mentioned Africa-Check, 22(40%) mentioned Dubawa Nigeria, while 24(43.6%) respondents identified “Other” categories of organisations that partnered with independent fact-checkers in Nigeria. These are represented below:

Forms response chart. Question title: 1. Have you ever participated in any fact-checking training? . Number of responses: 55 responses.
Forms response chart. Question title: 2. Which fact-checking outfit organised the training?. Number of responses: 55 responses.

Research Question 2: What is the relationship between local journalists/media and fact-checking organisations in Nigeria? 

To examine the level of relationship between local media and fact-checking organisations in Nigeria, respondents were asked three questions: (i)  Which media organisation did you report for during the period of training? (ii) How did you get informed of the training? (iii) To participate, how did you get onboard the training? Results of this survey show that a cross-section of media outfits encouraged journalists to participate in fact-checking training at different periods. While 14 respondents (25.5%) said they were aware, through their organisations, of the availability of fact-checking training, 13 respondents (23.6%) affirmed they were nominated to participate in training by their organisations. These are represented below: 

Forms response chart. Question title: 3. Which media organisation did you report for during the period?. Number of responses: 55 responses.
Forms response chart. Question title: 5. How did you get informed of the training?. Number of responses: 55 responses.
Forms response chart. Question title: 4. To participate, how did you get onboard of the training?. Number of responses: 53 responses.

Research Question 3: What was the level of fact-checking awareness and knowledge among local journalists before training?

When respondents were asked if they had awareness and knowledge of fact-checking before the training they had attended, only 4 respondents (7.3%) had a “very high” level of awareness, with 12 respondents (21.8%) having “very low” awareness. While a little less than half of the respondents at 43.6% had “low” awareness of the fact-checking before training, 14(at 25.5%) had “high” levels of awareness.

Research Question 4: Are local journalists yielding to capacity building to deploy fact-checking mechanisms in amplifying the culture of truth?

Here, respondents were asked two relevant questions to examine the extent to which they utilised knowledge and skill gathered from fact-checking training in Nigeria. These include: (i) How often did you write fact-checks and media literacy articles after the training? (ii) Did you organise any step-down training in your organisation after the training? 

On the question relating to fact-checks and media literacy articles, the highest number of respondents, representing 36.45% said they did fact-checking reports and media literacy only “Once in a while”. The lowest number of respondents were those who  wrote articles “Daily” (1.8%) and those who “never did” (1.8%). A large number of respondents said they did fact-check reports occasionally”(29.1%), ”weekly”(14.5%), “Forthnightly”(3.5%), and  “Monthly”(5.5%). When responding to questions relating to whether or not they organised step-down training or fact-check desks in their organisations after the training, the majority of the respondents (63.6%) responded in the negative, saying they never did. While only one quarter of the respondents (25.5%) answered in the affirmative, very few (10.9%) remained neutral.    

Forms response chart. Question title: 13. Did you organise any step down training in your organisation?. Number of responses: 55 responses.

Research Question 5: Are newsrooms publishing fact-checks produced by their journalists in Nigeria?

When respondents were asked to identify, in concrete terms how their fact-checks and other literacy articles were published, a variety of results were obtained. Majority of them (29.1%) indicated their reports were published as part of their broadcast contënt.” This was followed by those (27.3%) whose fact-checks were published “on my medium’s digital platform” while 9.1% said their reports were published “on the funder’s or trainer’s website” and another 9.1% said their reports were “never got published.” While others (25.4%) said their reports were either published ïn a column of my print medium”, or a combination of other platforms. 

Forms response chart. Question title: 12. How did these articles get published?. Number of responses: 55 responses.

Research Questions 6: Are there challenges journalists face in deploying fact-checking effectively in the course of duty?

Respondents Opinions were sought on the challenges faced in the effective take-up of fact-checking skills acquired during training. There were a series of insights from respondents. These responses are clearly shown in the discussion part of this study.

Discussion of findings:

The findings of the data collected so far reveal the impact of independent and dedicated fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. These organisations include Dubawa Nigeria and Africa Check. This finding corroborates Folarin’s position (2020) which highlighted Dubawa, Africa-Check, and Agency France as fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. However, while there was a failed attempt to identify AFP as having provided fact-checking training to journalists in Nigeria, this study identified “Other” categories of organisations that partnered with independent fact-checkers in Nigeria in providing skills and training to local journalists. This is a significant contribution of this study. It reveals the impact of the fact-checkers’ work, not only on local journalists but also on other non-profit organisations in Nigeria. 

To have impact, there must be a relationship between fact-checking organisations and the local media outfits in Nigeria. This study reveals, in two different findings, that there is a relationship between the two practitioners: First, the result shows media outfits made their journalists aware of fact-checking training. Two, it shows they also encouraged their journalists to participate in such training at different periods.  According to the data collected, while 14 respondents (25.5%) said they were aware of the availability of fact-checking training through their organisations, 13 respondents (23.6%) affirmed they were nominated and encouraged to participate in the training. 

On the journalists level of awareness of fact-checking journalism in Nigeria, this study shows that the majority of local journalists had low levels of awareness before training. This apparently explains the reason many of them keep asking for more even long after they must have received such training. This finding on low awareness is consistent with the observation made by Full Fact, Africa Check & Chequeado (2020) that  “there is still a long way to go to raise awareness of the practice and more to understand about how fact checking might encourage journalists to take on the principles of the practice in their own work.”

In addition, in spite of a relationship between local media and fact-checking organisations, and a record of statistics showing 89.1% respondents who said they received training at one  point or the other, the finding shows a greater number of respondents who indicated they have not been able to utilise the knowledge and training skills acquired effectively. For instance, only 1.8% said they did fact-checks “daily” and and 14% did “weekly” while the highest number of respondents, representing 36.45% said they did fact-check reports and media literacy only “once in a while”.

Whereas, one of the major expectations of the trained fact-checkers was to “train their colleagues and set up fact-checking desks in their newsrooms” (Patrick Egwu, 2019), this study shows local journalists fell short of this expectation. According to data collected for this study, 63.6% of the respondents said they never set up any fact-checking desks nor organise step-down training. While only one quarter of the respondents (25.5%) said they did, at least 10.9% could not respond appropriately.    

Meanwhile, the result also shows that, despite the little journalists were able to do with their fact-checking skills, newsrooms helped in publishing such fact-checks. According to the data collected, the majority of the respondents (29.1%) said their fact-checks were published as part of their broadcast content. This was followed by those (27.3%) who said their fact-checks were published on their medium’s digital platform. Some respondents (9.1%) said their reports were published on the funder’s or trainer’s website. Whereas others (25.4%) said their reports were either published ïn a column of their print medium, or a combination of print, broadcast, digital platform, another (9.1%) said their reports were never published.  

This is evidence that the partnership between local media and fact-checking organisations may attract a boost in the nearest future. This finding indeed corroborates Patrick Egwu (2019) while enunciating on the theory of change embraced by Dubawa Nigeria thus:

Dubawa devotes itself to the creation of strategic partnerships between the media, government, civil society organizations, technology giants and the public.

There is also evidence that fact-checking practices and media training are beginning to have great impacts on media standards. This underscores an observation by Full Fact, Africa Check & Chequeado (2020) that:  

Independent evaluations of Africa Check’s work show evidence of the positive impact that fact checking can have on media standards, through fact checking of claims in the media and training of journalists in misinformation awareness and fact checking techniques.

Success Stories

In furtherance of evidence showing impact of fact-checking training on local journalists, some of the success stories shared by respondents are highlighted below. One of them said:

Because of the kind of work we do at Rural Reporters, we double check stories to ensure facts and figures are verified and available in the public domain. Other important measure applied is fact-checking the source itself to know if it’s credible enough to quote and has not been found wanting in any fake news scandal;

Another said:

I am presently investigating a recent news report on the arrest of the suspects, alleged to be behind the rape and murder of Uwaila, the UNIBEN rape victim;

Another success story was that:

After the training at Africa-Check on health misinformation, I fact-checked whether Senator Ibikunle Amosun impersonated Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun when he was inspecting the areas affected by flood few months ago;

On the question of step-down training, one other person said:

I’m now heading the fact-check desk in my organisation;

To show that there is room for improvement, one respondent commented:

I’m still learning and applying these skills as I am currently a Dubawa fellow. However, I have applied them for several fact-checks and analysis published on NewsWire NGR.

Challenges faced by Journalists using Fact-Checking Skills

Meanwhile, part of the findings of this study has revealed huge challenges facing local journalists on the effective take-up of fact-checking training acquired. Infact, these challenges have been exposed by existing literature, considering the nature and the media environment in Africa and indeed Nigeria which leaves very narrow space for free press and professional standards.

First, there was an impression of a muffled voice as one of the challenges, particularly in government-owned media. As one respondent put it: 

 As a journalist with a government agency, I cannot fact-check government  programmes and policies because it will be termed as working against your employer.

Similarly, lack of enthusiasm by newsrooms to accept fact-checking as a new innovation was also cited as one of the challenges frustrating journalists’ maximum use of their skills. One respondent said: 

 Fact-checking is part and parcel of core journalism and many professionals do not see the need to treat it as a new concept.

This above assertion resonates with an earlier study which states that “despite an understanding of the importance of fact-checking amongst some editors interviewed… South African media houses have not yet fully embraced fact-checking journalism in the newsroom as a credible or necessary form of journalism” (Bob wekesa et al, 2018). 

Still on lack of the will to accept fact-checking, another respondent toed the same line as the one above:

  Many news organisations don’t publish, or support the publication of a Fact-checked claim in their paper, using the popular format, but as nominal news stories. 

Another respondent traced general challenges to the attitude of the newsrooms thus:

 Most newsrooms are more about breaking the news than giving out factual news. That’s one major challenge. Another challenge is that most newsrooms are not open to change. So with the advent of fact-checking or fact-checking desks, most seem not to care. 

Journalists Opinion on Solutions to Challenges

  • My opinion on the solution to these challenges is how to report the truth when the statements of the populist leaders are increasingly characterised by emotionalism, out of context, euphemism and double-speak. The solution is to convey accurate information in an analytical scientific way, correcting diplomatically in front of others so that they do not lose face, provided journalists will be independent to do quality journalism, collapsing business models and faltering advertiser market which  makes the media particularly vulnerable to manipulations by political elites, unethical practises…
  • Regular sensitisation and training especially for management staff who make policies for media outfits… when junior staff are trained, they face the task of convincing their bosses to key in;
  • The NGOs should target editors along with their reporters and news managers. Where possible, support them with needed tools and software;
  • I’ll suggest regular training on fact-checking. Again , I do think there should be a network of media practitioners with the core mandate to stop the flood of fake news. This network of professionals in the media industry can agree to a set of principles of non-partisanship, fairness, and transparency in fact-checking news articles and statements by newsmakers. More so, journalists need to understand the tactics of online trolls who willfully promote lies and manipulate the media. 

Conclusion 

This study has looked at the take-up of fact-checking by the Nigerian journalists who have received training provided by independent and dedicated fact-checking organisations in Nigeria. The study has made a major contribution to the body of fact-checking knowledge in Nigeria: it replicated, locally, a version of research carried out elsewhere which investigated the impact of fact-checking training on journalists, success stories, challenges and solutions in Nigeria and Africa at large. 

In the course of the research, another major revelation has shown that other local media capacity-building organisations have been impacted by the works of fact-checking organisations. At least, a little less than half of the respondents (43.6%) mentioned that they have benefitted from training provided by “other” categories of organisations that partnered with independent fact-checkers in Nigeria. 

Similarly, this study has also shown that one of the major ways fact-checking is helping the media fulfil its social responsibilities is the training and capacity building being provided to local journalists. This is evident in the success stories shared by the respondents. A good number indicated that their contents were being enriched by the fact-checks and media literacy articles they produced to amplify the culture of truth in the public domain. 

Again, this study is, in a number of ways, consistent with existing studies by Bob Wekesa et al (2017) and Full Fact, Africa Check & Chequeado (2020). First, the study shows that the positive impact of fact-checking is evident in “the training of journalists in misinformation awareness and fact checking techniques”. Two, it agrees with existing studies that there is an appreciable level of awareness of fact-checking among Nigerian journalists as observed elsewhere. It has also shown that there is an appreciable level of the impact of the training, skills and knowledge.

Similarly, this study has answered, in the affirmative, a question that borders on whether relationship exists between local media and fact-checking organisations. This is evident in the data collected from respondents who indicated they were made to be aware of fact-checking training and were also encouraged to participate by their respective organisations in those training. 

However, despite the awareness and knowledge of fact-checking tools, this study finds that journalists have not used the skills effectively and regularly, despite the barrage of trending and dangerous claims in the polity begging for verifications as only 1.8% said they did fact-checks “daily” and and 14% did “weekly” while the highest number of respondents (36.45%) said they did fact-check reports and media literacy only “Once in a while”. Again, the majority (63.6%) of the respondents said they never set up any fact-checking desks nor organise step-down training in their organisations.

This ineffectiveness apparently will not be far from the challenges uncovered by this study which shows that despite partnership and relationship between media and fact-checking organisations, some newsrooms still had cold feet towards adopting fact-checking in their organisations because ‘fact-checking is part and parcel of core journalism and many professionals do not see the need to treat it as a new concept’, said a respondent.

Another challenge boils down to media owners’ intolerance towards having to be fact-checked. As gathered, journalists in government-owned media could not fact-check official programmes and policies. One respondent said, “As a journalist with a government agency, I cannot fact-check government programmes and policies because it will be termed as working against your employer’.

Again, media owners would apparently be opposed to having their advertisers fact-checked.

In essence, this study agrees with existing literature that there is a measure of lack of clarity on the part of the media as to what exactly fact-checking is (Bob Wekesa et al, 2017). In all, this study has built on the South African study by Bob Wekesa et al (2017) in that, while the existing study looks at newsroom’s uptake of fact-checking, through the lens of the AfricaCheck’s work alone, the current study examines how fact-checking  impacts on the Nigerian journalists on the field through the lens of the efforts offered by AfricaCheck, Dubawa and other partnering not-for-profit media organisations.

Lastly, against the background of the need for the media to fulfill its social responsibilities to society, it is the view of this study  that the media create in-house fact-checking content and processes, specific guidelines and skills, as well as set fact-checking agenda on their own.

Recommendations

It is important to note that this study only captured the impact of fact-checking training and the take-up of fact-checking by the Nigerian journalists through a quantitative approach which draws on the frequency of numbers to measure impact and challenges. This is not enough to measure a great deal of impact. This study recommends the following for future research:

One, there is a need for a more qualitative approach and content analysis of what exactly journalists are doing with the skills they have acquired. For instance, Dubawa Nigeria will possibly rate differently the quality of a fact-check that borders “on claims that have implications for national security and public discourse…We fact-check claims made by influential people – politicians, social media influencers, [and] experts in the economic, political and health sectors” (Patrick Egwu, 2019).

Two,  as recommended by Bob Wekesa et al (2017), there is a need for research in audience interest in fact-checking journalism. Research that looks at what interests journalists to up-take fact-checking and how audiences consume fact-check would be beneficial for media houses and our democracy.

This research is conducted for the Dubawa Fellowship programme (2020), and is supported by Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation Abuja office.

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